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Thursday, 29 July 2010

Wild Food of the Month July: the pine kernel

Before July is over, and as it's been raining today, here another installment of our popular series: Wild Food of the Month. Summer is a time when I do slightly less wildfood foraging, because there's such a glut of cultivated veg in the garden, which doesn't mean we cease finding free food altogether though. We eat purslane on a practically daily basis in salads and as part of mixed juices. Now I have discovered amaranth it's leaves feature regularly in soups and bakes. Not to mention early windfall apples and pears providing us with juice. But today I'd like to talk about something you may not readily associate as a wild food.

The seeds of all species of pine tree are in theory edible, however most are far too small and fiddly to bother with. The most commonly used pine kernel comes from the Mediterranean stone oak. You gather the cones around this time of year, checking them for evidence of seed. You will probably find some loose on the ground as well.

Then you peel of the scales on by one to reveal one or two seeds under each. This is an extremely messy and sticky job as you can see from the state of my hand, mind you it smells nice.

Next you have to crack the hard shell around the actual pine kernel. You can do this with a wee tap of a small hammer (sorry couldn't find a smaller one),

or with the narrow bit of your nutcracker.

If you are unlucky your shell will be empty, as happens with at least 50%

But if you are lucky you'll find a small precious pine kernel.

The shell is extremely tough so it took me the best part of an hour to just get a small handful. It explains why they are so expensive when you buy them in a shop, however, fresh like this they actually taste of pine resin and are really aromatic, unlike most shop bought varieties which only seem to add texture to your pesto.

Yes and pesto is of course the traditional way of using pine kernels in our parts, but it's lovely added to other dishes too. I used the other day to add to a squash, dried fruit and pine kernel Pilau. That was after I had finished playing silly buggers with the squash and pretending I was Johnny I'm-a-bit-constipated Wilkinson kicking a penalty in rugby


Stefaneener said...

I remember foraging those as a kid in the Angeles National Forest. I didn't properly appreciate them then, though, I don't think. The dish sounds good, although the warmup to the squash is a bit silly, but that's normal, I suppose!

Jan said...

They really are very expensive to buy... no wonder! I don't think I could be bothered to get my own though, as I'm not keen enough on pine sap!

Mr. H. said...

Very interesting information about pine nuts. Yes, I can definitely see why they are so very expensive. I rarely find any as the squirrels beat us to them almost every time. Here is a dumb question for you, do you have squirrels in Italy?

You look like a pro at rugby, Johny Wilkinson step aside.:)

Ayak said...

I love pine nuts, and wondered why they are always so expensive. Now I know. I always learn so much from your blog!

Heiko said...

Mr.H, We do have squrrels, but the smaller red kind rather than your larger grey kind. They are much more actual forest dwellers and are rarely seen too close to human habitation. The American grey squirrel has been brought to Britain by humans where they have now all but replaced the native red squirrel. Do you ever watch rugby?

CJ said...

Interesting information ! If the seed is so hard to get, how do pine trees grow in wild?

Mr. H. said...

As we only have 2 local TV channels I have never had the opportunity to watch rugby..I didn't even see the Tour de France this year, as a matter of fact I don't even know who won...I will have to look it up.

Heiko said...

CJ, with some patience the scales will open up and the hard nuts will fall out by themselves. Than when it rains and they get wet, they start sprouting through the hard outer shell. It's just in this state you don't want to eat them anymore.

Mr.H, Alberto Contador won, but it was a bit controversial as he attacked Yellow Jersey Andy Schleck when he had a mechanical problem. Not against the rules, but bad etiquette. He won in the end by exactly the margin he gained that day.

Contadina said...

I'd almost resigned myself to a pine-free pesto life (it's all almonds down in the heel) but you've inspired to go forage for pine nuts. I think I'll copy the native American's though who put blankets under a tree, before giving it a good shake. Hopefully the seeds will be kind enough to fall on my blanket. Thanks for the inspiration Heiko :)

Kate said...

Someone here gave me 2 tiny pine nut trees.... hope I live long enough to harvest some! Lucky you to be able to forage for them.

LindyLouMac said...

I am guiltily admitting that I have only just found your blog, thanks to the itaytutto top ten list from last week!
My Blog is even listed on your sidebar :( I am off to correct this admission and add yours to My Italy Blog List at once.

So pleased to find you.

Heiko said...

Ciao Lindy and welcome to my blog. No worries, I have only just discovered your blog too and it's been only just been added to my side bar. I just beat you to it by a few days :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the information. I really had no idea it was so complicated. I will eat the delicious little things with much more thought now.